April 14, 2008
You've already sniffed the Turkey Glue, now read my take.
This, and not the Most Valuable Player, is the NBA's most frustrating award.
The voters never seem to get it right. Sure, there are some exceptions, but the Most Improved Player hardware always seems to go to the Guy Who Gets Way More Minutes This Season, or the Guy On a Once-Lousy Team That We Didn't Pay Attention To the Year Before. The actual idea of improvement, honest-to-goodness increase in production and play, is out the window.
So, after taking in hours of the on-court stuff, watching these guys last year and this season, and going over the per-minute numbers, it's safe to say that Andrew Bynum is this season's most improved player.
But he shouldn't win the Most Improved Player award. My man didn't play enough games. Pity, but that's how it goes. The other candidates? Let's ‘ave a go:
Hedo Turkoglu. Terrific season. Upped his shooting percentage, appears to be in better shape, more active off the ball which makes him a constant offensive threat. His turnovers went up with the increased responsibility, but so did his assists, rebounds, and points per-minute.
(Oh, yeah, we use per-minute stats. It's to help you tell the difference between the guys that improved quite a bit, and the guys that played a lot more just because Isiah Thomas isn't that great at building a team.)
Last season, Hedo threw out 15.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per 36 minutes. This year, the numbers have jumped to 19, 5.6, and 4.8 assists per 36, while the shooting percentage has rocked to 45 percent after a 42 percent turn last season.
Anthony Carter has improved this year, he'll play about 2000 more minutes in 2007-08 than he did last season, but beyond a shooting percentage increase, his numbers aren't that far off from where they were in seasons past.
LaMarcus Aldridge has improved, but not by a lot. He's played more minutes in Zach Randolph's absence (does that Isiah reference make sense now?), which allows him to put up better stats, but his per-minute rebounding has actually gone down, his per-minute turnovers have gone way up, his shooting percentage has gone down, as have his blocks.
Aldridge is averaging more minutes per game, and more shots per-minute. This is why his points per game has gone way up (almost nine per game), and his points per 36 minutes has leapt from 14.6 to 18.5. But the name of the game is improvement, and not more shots, and certainly not more minutes. LaMarcus didn't get those shots and minutes because he started setting the world on fire. He got them because Zach Randolph is kind of a [jerk], and Isiah Thomas doesn't know what he's doing.
This isn't to trash LaMarcus, who is a fine player and a cornerstone of what will probably be the NBA champs from 2011 to 2019. We just have to make a distinction.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. is right there. His rebounds and turnovers per minute are worse off, but he's scoring nearly four and a half points more per 36 minutes, without a huge increase in shot attempts (up 1.7 per 36 minutes).
I can't give it to Chris Kaman, mainly because 2006-07 was a fluke year. His improved production is right in line with the year-to-year growth that one should expect. Take out last season, compare this year's turn with 2005-06 and 2004-05, and his (steady and impressive) play makes sense.
Rudy Gay is also right there, he managed to up his shot attempts per minute while increasing his shooting percentage, no small feat. Everything else, however, stayed the same.
Jose Calderon is brilliant, but he's playing about as well as he did last season. T.J. Ford's injury gave Jose more minutes, and I don't confuse "improvement" with "Al Horford not knowing which guys he can slap across the head."
So who is it? Well, you've seen the picture and read the headline, so let's get to why Chris Paul has improved more than anyone else:
He's creating more. More shots for himself (couple that with an increase in shooting percentage, from 44 to 49 percent), and more buckets for his teammates.
Remember, last season the Hornets didn't have Peja Stojakovic, and the team needed Paul to score more. This season, he's learned from the Steve Nash school, squaring his shoulders and knowing when to dart - so even with Peja's return, Paul is still putting up more shots per minute, and making them.
That's big. To have a potent point man that defenses can't muscle out of the action is important. Paul is averaging three points more per 36 minutes per game, and his assists have shot through the roof: 11.1 per 36 minutes, as opposed to 8.7 per 36 last season.
Now, assists depend on teammates; but you never saw Kirk Hinrich (playing with Tyson Chandler in Chicago) or Mike Bibby (flinging it to Peja in Sacramento) leading the league in assists. This is Paul, owning things.
The steals have gone way up, the turnovers have stayed the same (slightly better than last season per-minute, in spite of the added responsibility), he's averaging fewer rebounds per minute, but also pairing a better three-point touch with the ability to get more three-pointers off.
PER, the best catch-all stat we have, has Paul going from 22 last season, to an MVP-caliber 28.3 this season. We aren't used to seeing MVP candidates win the MIP (it usually goes to a plucky player who went from "good" to "pretty good"), but if Paul was the most improved, then why the heck not?
Readers, you see the games. You're reading an NBA blog on a Monday afternoon. You know the league. Ask yourself, have you seen anyone make a bigger jump between 2006-07 and 2007-08 than this guy? I haven't.